Giant scale worm

Scale worms are usually small, and there are many different species that fall under the common name. At least one, Arctonoe vittata, famously enjoys a complex relationship with starfish. The worm lives in the starfish's sucker feet. There's a possibility that this commensal arrangement—neither animal really gets any special benefit from having the other around, but they aren't hurt by it either. On the other hand, a 1979 research paper found that A vittata and its starfish host will seek each other out—mutually—through mazes. The starfish will even choose to move toward the worm over its favorite food. And it's still not really clear why that is.

So these are interesting worms. In fact, they can look damn-near cute—almost like little roly-poly pill bugs. But those are the small ones. This guy is different.

The scale worm species Eulagisca is native to the Antarctic. Scientist and Deep Sea News blogger Miriam Goldstein found him in the Scripps Benthic Invertebrate Collection. Check out his size compared to the coffee cup, and tremble.

Not scared yet? Let's talk about the jaws of the scale worm. Here's something that many scale worm species share—mouths that make them look like extras from Aliens. Miriam has a photo of this specific specimen's jaws on Deep Sea News, but it doesn't quite capture the full horror. Below is a Smithsonian microscope image.

Read the rest of Miriam Goldstein's post at Deep Sea News

Read about the horrific jaws of scale worms and see more microscope images, courtesy the Real Monstrosities blog

Read about the relationship between scale worms and starfish at The Echinoblog


  1. I love how the mouth is in focus on the last picture, it makes it look so evil and menacing!

  2. Crap, I could never drink anything out of that coffee mug ever again after it was that close to the giant worms.

  3.  And here I was, just getting over the nightmares the hedgehog penis caused me.  I shudder to think of the fresh horrors BoingBoing will unmask next week :]

  4. …none of that explained why this is scary. If it’s just that the worm has jaws, ok, but then the things that should really scare you are vertebrates. Those get way bigger and the jaws usually have rows of sharpened bones that grow out through the flesh.

    1. Holy hell!  I’m never going anywhere near any vertebrates!

      …I think this means I have to be a bank regulator now.

    2. It is scary because you can imagine smaller versions latching onto the back of the neck and taking over your mind (like the ending of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation). The larger versions probably just burst from the stomach of their victims.

      1. Well, it’s not the first thing I think of when I see a worm. Sure, I could imagine these latching onto someone…but I can imagine the same with monkeys, and it certainly wouldn’t be less frightening.

  5. “There’s a possibility that this commensal arrangement” what ? Aren’t there a few words missing there ? (I’m not a native english speaker, so this might be just me, but I keep trying to make sense of this sentence and I just can’t)

  6. From the article:

    “You know what’s most obscene of all? These worms are in the family Polynoidae, which is in the superfamily Aphroditoidea, itself in the suborder Aphroditiformia. That’s 2 mentions of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. I don’t know who decided to use that name, but that person was a strange person.”


    1. That person was Linnaeus, and yes, it seems he was being more than a little strange. This definitely isn’t the first thing I think of when I see a worm of any shape.

      1. Maybe Linnaeus was thinking of Aphrodite’s origins? She was born fully formed from sea foam. She’s the one standing on the oyster shell in that Bottecelli painting. So….ocean=Aphrodite? Maybe? I don’t know. I give up.

  7. Well have you ever considered how lonely starfish must be? It’s like letting a jerk roommate share your apartment because at least you don’t have to talk to the ficus.

  8. Why do I get the feeling that the scientist talks to it in her best Miss Piggie voice… “Wormeeeeeeee!”

  9. A vittata and its starfish host will seek each other out—mutually—through mazes. 

    If people weren’t being so damned speciesist, they’d realize the very same thing would happen with Xeni and a kitten.

    Wormday, please!

  10. Here’s my original post about weird critters from the Antarctic

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